Here’s how to support working parents as we start to return to offices
Five ways to make the transition back to office smoother for parents.
After working remotely for almost 19 months, many employees are receiving internal memos on the big return to the office. Companies like Alphabet, Apple and Meta, and others are looking to implement hybrid models, where individuals will spend time in the office and time at home. Much of Wall Street, particularly large banks, asked for employees to start returning to the office this past summer. The pressure is on for many employees to start returning to the office, as leaders long for in-person interactions and opportunities for teams to collaborate live. As a working parent, I want to be back in the office. I am ready to resign as my children’s full-time cook, referee, and chief entertainment officer. But my resignation won’t be as simple as giving two weeks’ notice. For working parents, the transition of returning to the office will be difficult. Here’s how employers can support working parents as we return to the office:
1. Offer mental health care support
Experts are concerned about the toll the pandemic has taken on children’s mental health. In the recent Child Mind Institute’s Coronavirus Health and Impact Survey, it was reported that a much higher proportion of children felt very or moderately sad, depressed, or unhappy as a result of the pandemic. More than half of the kids (11 to 17 years old) in a Mental Health America Report who were surveyed reported having thoughts of suicide or hurting themselves.
To increase workplace psychological safety, employers must invest in mental health care support working parents as we return to the office. For both working parents and children, caregiving in the pandemic has been incredibly stressful. Let’s ensure mental health care services expands to also include our children. Brightline offers behavioral health care to kids and their families, including digital resources, on-demand chat and coaching, and therapy and evaluation. Talkspace offers 24/7 access to therapists for teens 13-17 years old. Amwell has therapists in each state trained in working with children ages 10-17 years old.
2. Provide caregiver support
At the start of the pandemic, employers stepped up to help support working parents. Bank of America, Carta, and Intel introduced stipends to help with childcare. Citigroup partnered with Bright Horizons, offering enrollment into local daycare centers that were open and back-up daycare.
As employers push to return to the office, they must recognize that more than 30% of child care centers closed during the pandemic. Reopening centers is only one step; many will struggle to stay open. Finally, 72% of families say child care is more expensive. Even though offices might be re-opening, working parents will struggle to find childcare solutions.
of families say child care is more expensive.
Employers should continue or start to provide caregiver stipends into 2022 or consider opening an on-site daycare to help provide solutions. Bright Horizons has a comprehensive development process to customize a center that reflects your parents’ needs. Vivvi helps create on-site child care by transforming unused office space.
3. Check-in on accommodations needed
If you manage or work with parents, a great kindness would be to *offer* them some slack this week instead of making it contingent on them to request it
— Anne Helen Petersen (@annehelen) January 10, 2022
Some of your employees may have become parents for the first time; other parents may be new to your company. As working parents return back to the office, ensure their needs are being met and review your policies. Ensure your mother’s/parent’s rooms are up to date, and if you don’t have mother’s rooms, now is the time to create them. If new moms are expected to start traveling, ensure you have breast milk shipping options for those who are nursing.
Some women may be far along in their pregnancy as you announce your return to the office date. Allow for flexibility and support to work from home as needed and time off for them to attend doctors appointments. Be compassionate for those who are having a difficult pregnancy or in the middle of in vitro fertilization treatments who need additional time outside of the office.
4. Formalize a phase-back policy
Phase-back or on-ramping policies are a popular offering to help new parents come back to work after taking parental leave. It’s an opportunity for a new parent or a caregiver to ease back to work with a part-time schedule after the leave ends. This transition back to work can make the difference between quitting and coming back.
As parents return to the office, many children who are used to having their parents constantly around will suffer from separation anxiety. Offer parents a formal phase-back policy on returning to the office to help with the transition. Be supportive and understanding if parents come in late or leave early as their children adjust to their new family schedule. Be mindful and inclusive of parents when thinking about scheduling meetings or planning team events, and avoiding the early morning or after work hours.
5. Don’t wait until April 2022 for Take Your Kids to Work Day
Every year in April, employers across the U.S. invite kids into their offices for national “Take Your Kids to Work Day.” It gives children the opportunity to see what their parents do for a living, what their routines are like, and meet their coworkers. Many employers will organize activities for children to be fully immersed for the day at the company.
You don’t have to wait until April 2022 to invite children into the offices. Similar to a parents’ weekend for parents visiting kids who are in college, you can host a kids day. You can invite employees to bring their kids for lunch and get to see the office space. It will get kids exposure again to their parents’ work life, and help them get more adjusted to the fact that Mom and Dad are no longer working from the kitchen table or the couch. It’s another way employers can show compassion and care as both parents and kids adjust to the big return to the office.
Mita Mallick is a corporate change-maker with a track record of transforming businesses. She gives innovative ideas a voice and serves customers and communities with purpose. She was formerly the Head of Inclusion and Cross-Cultural Marketing at Unilever. She has had an extensive career as a marketer in the beauty and consumer product goods space. Mallick is a LinkedIn Top Voice, a contributor for Entrepreneur and Harvard Business Review, and her writing has been published in Adweek, Fast Company, and Business Insider.